Do the Ends Justify the Means?

In Integrity is the Most Important Requirement in a Manager, I talked about integrity as a requirement for a manager. With the current Patriots scandal, I’m wondering what Belichick was thinking.

I don’t claim to know everything about football. I enjoy watching the games. I enjoy seeing a team come together, which is what the Patriots have done over the last few years. I am surprised that videotaping the other coaches is against NFL policy. (Oh, come on, when cameras can be hidden in glasses–which will happen in a few years–how is the NFL going to catch people taping the other team?) But it is against NFL policy, at least for now.

I asked Mark, who Knows All Things Football, at least in our house, about the taping. He said, “Everyone’s doing it.” The idealistic part of me says, “Maybe.” The cynical part of me says, “Figures.”

But even if everyone else is doing it, it’s not right. Not according to the current rules.

I’m trying to remember a time when I thought that going against the rules in a cheating way was appropriate. Then I remembered something I do all the time. I encourage my clients and colleagues to do work in an iterative/incremental way even on a supposed serial lifecycle. I tell people they don’t have to explain everything about their work to their management–that all they have to do is deliver results. (Which they can’t do in a serial lifecycle, but can in an iterative/incremental lifecycle.)

I’d like to think I’m doing something different from Belichick. I’m not telling people to spy on another group without their knowledge, and use the new-found information against them. I am telling people to “lie” by omission. (I’d never thought that was lying until now.)

Up until today, I thought that the ends–a successful project–justified the means. Now I’m not so sure. Part of me says that the project team are the experts and they should be in charge of their work process. That same part is sure the management team who insists on a serial lifecycle either doesn’t understand what they want, or doesn’t realize that artifacts are no guarantee of a working product. But the other part of me is wondering if I shouldn’t insist that project teams–who work in a way their managers don’t understand and deliberately keep that information from management–should tell their management what they’re doing.

I’m curious what you think. Are there times when the project ends justify the means? Where do you draw the line?

5 Replies to “Do the Ends Justify the Means?”

  1. The answer: it depends.
    There are degrees of wrongness, and there is also the question of intent. Disregarding certain rules in order to make a project successful isn’t “cheating” in the same way taping signals of the other team is. Here’s how I break it down:
    Belichick’s actions were not consistent with the overall objectives of the NFL – to place both teams on an equal footing and to promote football as a sport. Belichick’s actions were damaging to both.
    Delivering projects successfully is in the best interest of the company, and is consistent with the “higher” objectives of the organization. Breaking rules in a way that doesn’t violate the overall objectives of the group isn’t the same.
    Also, football is an inherently different situation – it’s a game. Games without rules are not fun, nor are they competitive. Therefore, adherence to the rules is considerably more important. There are no competitive games, including sports competitions, without rules.
    Project management does not depend on the existence of rules the way sports do. “Rules” in project management are simply expressions of someone’s theory/bias regarding how a project should be run. Rules don’t create or sustain project management, they way they create or sustain games.
    So, long story short – I think you’re okay. Project managers are expected to deliver projects no matter what, sometimes even in spite of the organizations they deliver them for.

  2. I think these situations beg the question, “Who is harmed?”.
    In the Belichik case, the other team is potentially harmed. He’s cheating in a competition that’s a zero sum game.
    In your management scenario, if the desired results are produced, who is harmed?
    The situation in this case is that management ultimately *is* only concerned with results. Ultimately they don’t care how they were achieved (assuming ethics and legal rules were not broken).
    However, they mistakenly believe that the serial approach will get them the results, so they impose that order.
    Ultimately, I think after a few wins, it is time to come clean so that “educating up” occurs.

  3. I think you have answered the question yourself. Integrity. If you look inside yourself you know.
    For me, when I’m in doubt I create a fantasy situation where I’m confronted by someone with everything I have done. Then I ask myself: Can I still stand by what I have done and take responsibility for every decision I have made, every action I have done? In me, I know at once. There is no doubt!
    Debating on the merits of who’s harmed or thinking your know your boss or the organizations higher values can just as easily be used for doing something that’s ok as for something that is not ok. Ultimately you take responsibility for your actions by knowing why you do this. Trying to use rules is just a way to not take personal responsibility (that is response-ability).
    You know if you do it beacuse it’s easy and let you of some hook. Or if you do it because you truly believe you will help you manager/company even though they don’t understand what you are doing. Maybe you are doing it because you want to take the easy road in this case so you can retain sufficient energy to take the difficult road in another much more important case.
    You know if it’s ok for you to actually lie or not.
    In ethics there are no rules. But you know.

  4. The end does not justify the means.
    Consider the mess in Iraq.
    “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” — Robert Fulghum

  5. What is the “end” here? Are you in a transaction where only this project matters to you, or are you in an ongoing relationship with this management?

    If you are in a job where you are required to deliver, but given constraints that make it impossible, and you don’t think you can ever change that, then it’s time to move on.

    Ethics isn’t a set of rules that ties one hand behing your back; it is a reminder to remember the context.

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